Friday, January 09, 2015

Conservative columnist wants to pay for some of Social Security with gasoline taxes, mixing apples and oranges


Charles Krauthammer has an op-ed in the Washington Post Friday, January 9, 2015, “Raise the gas tax, a lot”, to pay for reductions in the Social Security FICA tax, link here, p A17    I’ll set aside the discussion of whether lower oil prices are here to stay (don’t count on it), or whether a gas tax should fund carbon-removal technologies (yup!). 
   
But I really disagree with playing Robin Hood.  To simply pay for social security from another source is to sidestep the real debate on the sustainability of Social Security, and the whole idea of increasing retirement ages (with longer life spans), or even means testing.  After three years of debate (starting with the 2011 debate during the first debt ceiling crisis), it’s still unclear in many people’s minds whether Social Security is an annuity, or a kind of welfare.  In practice, it is largely the former;  legally it is a mixture. 
  
Let’s not conflate the two.  Discuss energy policy on its own merits, including how it affects city v rural people.  Discuss the character of Social Security, and whether there should be gradual privatization of some of it (which the GOP – now controlling both houses of Congress – wants), separately.  Don’t expect unprincipled quick fixes.  

Picture: those snow grains look like gemstones.   

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